Written Monday, January 15, 2007 By Dan WebbView author's profile
After a hectic festive period we`re back up and running on the editorials and what better way to kick off the new year than a look at the Marketplace in its new found glory. Take a look and then discuss on our forums. Hope you enjoy.
In the beginning
Ahhhh, the Marketplace, a great informative virtual cyber space that is, and I must say kudos to Microsoft, such an intuitive creation. What a great portal between the users of the 360 and between Microsoft. What a great place to parade new games, new clips and allow users to sample the game before release. However this has been known to have a negative effect as well *cough* Eragon *cough* but on the whole, it has been a really positive creation especially with introduction of high definition programs being a mouth watering addition. A night in can really mean a night in when the Marketplace offers so much happiness with the click of a button, in the comfort of your own home. All these positives however possibly over shadow a few of the dark patches that never really get much attention.
The one to me that seems to go unnoticed is simply the marketplace points scheme which is designed to cleverly disguise that it is in fact real money that is being spent, in my opinion this marketing genius on Microsoft’s behalf but not good for us consumers. It reminds me of playing monopoly, throwing money around because it’s not real. I mean, how many of us have simply been browsing the marketplace and thought, oh I like that gamer picture or that theme and paid for it because you have some points left over, then downloaded and after all come to the decision that you don’t like it and go back to what you had before, because I know I have. At the end of the day, you see them as only points and are more willing to spend them without a second thought.
The next issue for me is additional content and this will be the focal point of this editorial. Whether it is right to pay for these add-ons or whether we are merely being exploited. The obvious pros to additional content are that developers can constantly improve a game and give the fans more of what they crave but then there is the dreaded con of exploitation and increasing costs. Where better to start than the mighty Oblivion.
The Journey into Oblivion
The brains behind Oblivion, Bethesda, since its 20th of March release date in the States, have released no more, or no less than 8 updates, yes that’s right, 8 updates. These have ranged from small updates, to monster updates like Knights of the Nine.
"Where do I put my wallet in this tin can?
Who cares, at least the scenery is awesome!"
Starting at the beginning, first up was the Horse Armour pack which cost an incredible 200 Marketplace points, now correct me if I’m wrong, that’s a lot of money to pay for horse armour (we’ll talk £’s and $’s in a sec). Then we had mission packs such as Mehrunes’ Razor, The Orrery, The Thieves Den, The Vile Lair and The Wizards Tower weighing in at a hefty 600 Marketplace points total and don’t let me forget the spell pack Spell Tomes for another 80 points. Then last but not least we have the huge Knights of the Nine add on which was an incredible 800 pts. Excessive seeing as an arcade game is that many points? That’s your call. It may also be necessary to point out the fact that Live is a must for these updates, so where does that leave our friends who have no desire or no means to connect their 360 to an access point?
So total them together and it'll set you back an incredible 1480 Marketplace points for these additions, now in real money that is an extra $18.49 / £12.58, now add that to the price of the game, ($64 approx in the US and £40 in the UK) and you'll find that the original price of the game has increased by an astounding 29% in the US and a huge 31.5% in Europe. If this wasn’t Oblivion, I’m sure there would be an outrage, but considering the vast size of the original game, one cannot complain that developers have got lazy in this instance and tried to make money of tiny expansions. The content that they create is proportional and thus it is reasonable to charge for updates that are of a good quality.
Is it fair to charge for additional multiplayer maps and patches because this additional content is becoming more and more popular? The most recent map pack was free and that was courtesy of Epic for Gears of War, but at this present time, the negative effect of the patch is over shadowing how good these maps really are. But people have never really frowned on map packs being charged for, basically because of the effort that goes in to them and they are not already standard. So that appears to be the difference, companies like Bethesda and Activision putting extra effort in to the maps and add-ons, we have no qualms with, but other companies charging for content that is already on the disk is not short of an outrage!
So then, focus swiftly moves on to gaming giants EA as their recent moves have caused nothing but outrage across the gaming world. What brought the focus on to EA then? Well simple, they've started a trend to charge for materials that can be simply unlocked by playing the game.
How can they justify charging for a shortcut in the game? Well EA's Head of Online Commerce Chip Lang in an interview with Microsoft's Major Nelson simply justified the move as a mode of 'choice' and 'customisation'. In said interview, Lang states the only 20% of the actual users of their games unlock the content in question so they were looking at a way so that these individuals were able to enjoy these benefits. I personally think they saw a hole in the market where they could make a quick buck that would never usually see these benefits but hey, that’s the business side of EA coming to light. My point regarding these, are that they devalue the work of others that have earned these unlockables. Take Tiger Woods 07 as an example and the Purchase of the Maxed Out Golfer for 200 Microsoft points. A person who has spent 10-15 hours beating the Tiger Challenges is at no more of an advantage now than someone who has clicked and purchased this content. This can be then taken to another level when achievements are bought in to the equation. Click and earn, hmmmmmm, reminds me of a much hated past time regarding gamesaves in the same respect that you would be benefiting off something you personally haven’t achieved.
No wonder Tiger is smiling so much as
EA charge for unlocking content!?
EA aren’t the only ones using this strategy to charge for things that are already on the retail disk. Rare have used it with their current title Viva Pinata when charging for accessories and when looking at it, they are not the only culprits, I mean, games such as *takes deep breath* both Cabela’s, Chromehounds, College Hoops 2K7, Lego Star Wars, Samurai Warriors are to name but a few of the games that are guilty of these actions. These however seemed to have slipped under the radar, such a shame that
this is what developers are resorting to. Lets not hope that this is a new trend but I can’t help but think it may be.
EA state that this is a ‘choice and not a requirement’ but that’s easy to say about anything in life whether it be listening to Vanilla Ice or bungee jumping without a rope, both pretty much the same task essentially, but you get my point. One of the benefits that can be acknowledged however was Mr Lang’s point regarding the additional content that was available on Limited Editions of the game, take Need For Speed Carbon as an example. This content is now available for a small fee on the Marketplace and it prevents those that failed to pick up the edition at launch to not miss out on its benefits. Chip Lang also states that their guiding principle is that they will not charge for content that is free on one platform on another platform, but is that enough? Or are they just covering their own backs? Only time will tell whether EA and friends will continue to use the Marketplace to fill their pockets or actually do something that will make us gamers happy like maybe fixing glitched achievements *cough* Tiger 06, or make their servers stable.
Drastic times calls for drastic measures in
battle of the consoles
Woah! Stop there a second! That sounds a good idea and all but how will this shape the future? Surely that would means less originality and developers working on additional content when they are usually creating and developing new titles. Well, it would be a tiny bit naïve to presume that seeing as Bethesda are constantly updating Oblivion and creating other titles. Same goes with Ubisoft, they are still able to churn out Chapter 2 for Ghost Recon while working on it’s sequel at the same time.
So to think that companies would put all their eggs in one basket is a little far fetched. One thing can be sure though, that if developers continue to improve already great titles, then us, the gamer, are on to a winner. But all good things come at a cost that’s what life has taught me, so expect to shell out your hard earned cash on these updates and content in the 2007 and beyond as new trends are set. As long as the cost is proportional and the content of a good quality, then chances are we will welcome it with open arms. So companies like EA heed our warning and Bethesda and it’s brother, congrats.
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